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Arnold family's fire turned into gifts of caring

| Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 12:12 a.m.
Jamie Xolo holds her 2 year-old daughter Sofia as her 8 year-old daughter Salma plays with toys at the Weber residence in Arnold on Thursday December 27, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

An Arnold family was surprised twice by a fire three days before Christmas.

Amy Thomas, her husband, Gill, and two granddaughters were asleep in their home at 1628 Third Ave. shortly before midnight last Saturday when fire put them at risk.

“We heard banging on the door and people yelling,” recalls Amy Thomas, 54.

Arnold police Sgt. Mike Ondo and Patrolman Dave Clouse kept up the noise until Amy and Gill were able to wake up and open the door.

“The smoke from 1630 was heavy and getting into 1628,” Ondo said.

Gill Thomas, 57, an Arnold firefighter, said Ondo and Clouse, who are fathers with experience in dealing with children, helped get his granddaughters up, dressed and out of the house.

Salma, 8, and Sofia, 2, were all right and their mother, Jamie Xolo, was at work.

“They even got our dog, Lucy, out, but we lost Christmas gifts for the kids. Gill and I had bought presents for each other but that didn't matter. We just wanted the gifts for the girls,” said Amy Thomas.

“I didn't smell smoke or see anything until we were walking down the steps and I could see the flames between the house next door and our house,” she said.

“We saw the firemen and the medics setting up and then went to a neighbor's house.”

It was an unsettling experience and the future was looking bleak, she said.

But the firefighters and paramedics went above and beyond rescuing the family and fighting the fire. They and some relatives helped to find some gifts and donated others.

A relative and a friend, Mia Provenzo, who works for Medic One, Murrysville's ambulance service, spearheaded a fund-raiser that surprised the family.

“I went to school with Jamie and I am very close with the 8-year-old,” said Provenzo. “This is a way for me to pay it forward.”

“Kmart, Family Dollar and Wal-Mart even allowed us to exchange damaged gifts.” Amy Thomas said.

“It is so uplifting to know there are some good people out there. Many thanks and God bless you,” she said. “It makes you feel great,” she said.

Provenzo said the Thomas family still needs help from the community.

Gill Thomas, who works at Daily Juice, and Amy Thomas, a cook at McDonald's in New Kensington, have lived in the house about 10 ½ years.

“We have insurance, but we won't be able to get back in for quite a while. There was damage to the roof, and wiring and we'd have to replace all the furniture, carpet, bedding and wiring,” she said.

The Thomases are staying with Amy's sister Cheryl and brother-in-law Willie Weber, Arnold's police chief, but there isn't enough room for the Xolo and her daughters so they are living elsewhere for the time being.

“But that could change soon,” Amy Thomas said. “A friend said we'd be able to use his house if we pay utilities.”

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or

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